Trump and Election Protection in 2016

October 3, 2016
posted by Bob Bauer

Donald Trump has urged his supporters to check closely for fraud and irregularities at the polling places. He wants them to make sure the voting is on the “up and up,” and he implies that there is a reason it might not be: he believes that there is a “big, big problem” which apparently “nobody has the guts to talk about.”

Rick Hasen, among others, has criticized Trump for claiming the widespread existence of a problem—impersonation voting fraud—which in fact occurs with extreme infrequency, and he worries that Trump supporters’ response to the demand that they somehow solve this “big, big problem” may intimidate voters, deterring some from exercising their right to vote. Hasen’s concern is fully justified.

This is not to suggest Trump or any other candidate should not expect, or should not do what he or she can, to help bring about an orderly election in which the rules, including the eligibility rules, are followed. There are any number of defensible “protect the vote” programs that his or any campaign, or political party, might put in place. But normally, the campaign or party defines the problem with precision, trains observers, and deploys lawyers to go about the task capably and responsibly. Instead Trump seems intent on issuing a alarm that any supporter can interpret as he or she wishes. The choice for Trump is not between measures to protect the vote and none at all, but between a genuine,competently structured program of voter protection and a wild political swing. That he chose the latter is deeply unfair to the voters.

Also not to be overlooked: It is also unfair to the election officials across the country charged with the hard work of running the polling places and deeply committed to professional,nonpartisan administration of the voting process. Some are Republicans, some Democrats, and some affiliate with neither party: it doesn’t matter. They do their jobs, often without adequate funding; they are the first to take the blame for anything that goes wrong. They persevere, a good many of them for years of relatively thankless service.

It is no help to these officials to have the Republican nominee demand that his supporters flood the polling places on the suspicion of a “big, big problem.” These officials require support, not suspicion and uninformed interventions to make sure all is on the “up and up.”   Those candidates, parties and other groups dedicated to voting rights and law who watch the polling place and supplement the work of election officials have the responsibility to bring to this effort training, knowledge and experience.

The objective of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration, a nonpartisan body, was to promote professionalism in the conduct of elections and to identify a space where it could flourish. It is delicate business. There is, of course, a wide divide over the structure of the electoral process and the substance of voting rights, and the courts have been busy adjudicating these disagreements. But there remains the day-to-day requirement of running elections by the agreed rules, and the officials who must perform this vital task, and who have plenty of “guts,” deserve better than what Donald Trump is proposing to do to make their work that much harder.

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